Eggs for and against
The debate over egg intake continues.
IN LINE with the immutable philosophy spread by some popular media, that everything that tastes good has to be bad for you, comes the recent suggestion that eggs cause diabetes, or heart disease, or cancer – the list goes on.
This was spurred on by a review article in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology,1 which suggested that patients with diabetes should avoid eggs.
The paper, co-authored by respected nutritionist David Jenkins, resulted in a flurry of letters to the editor, both supporting and opposing the anti-egg view.
Here are some of the main points:
1. Eggs (at least in their traditional form), have been eaten by humans for millennia.
It’s unlikely that such a food would remain on the human gustatory list if evolution had deemed it too dangerous.
2. Few if any health scientists suggest all eggs should be eliminated from the diet.
The argument concerns more the number of eggs consumed per week and whether this differs according to metabolic status – that is, for someone with diabetes, heart disease and so on.
There’s little disagreement that an egg a day is healthy for the average person.
Individual recommendations may need to be made for the less healthy.
3. Eggs may increase ‘good’ cholesterol.
Well-controlled studies have shown that even in patients with diabetes, an energy-reduced diet of two eggs per day may increase HDL cholesterol, decrease blood pressure and leave blood sugars unchanged, compared with a diet of no eggs.
4. Adherence could be a factor in healthy diet maintenance.
There’s little doubt that a low total energy intake, and/or a predominantly plant-based diet, is overall the healthiest available.
However, this and a very low energy diet (VLED) are difficult to maintain in the real world. Hence the inclusion of some eggs and other low-risk foods may be better for long-term results.
5. A lot may depend on what is eaten with the eggs.
The combination of fat from foods such as bacon with eggs is known to have a greater impact on cholesterol than either food eaten alone. Hence, as well as choosing your eggs wisely, it’s worth choosing their partners on your plate just as astutely.
1. Modern eggs may be different.
There is little doubt that the industrialisation of egg production could have changed the nutritive value of eggs. Those produced by chickens confined to a small square cage could be quite different to those of chickens allowed to run around the paddock. At present, there is insufficient data to prove this one way or the other.
2. An egg is not an egg is not an egg.
As pointed out in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, eggs differ dramatically depending on the form of production, type of hen, size of egg and so on. It’s not unlikely that genuine free-range eggs are quite different to ‘free to roam’ or battery-bred hen’s eggs.
3. Eggs do contain cholesterol.
While this is a significant amount – that is, one day’s cholesterol requirement in one egg – cholesterol per se is not as worrying as saturated fat.
The nutrient mix in eggs appears to counteract cholesterol, causing increases in the HDL component, resulting in a positive lipid balance.
4. A lot may depend on the cooking method.
Boiling, in contrast to frying, or other ‘broken shell’ techniques, would have less nutritive impact on eggs because of the limitations of the oxidative process within a confined egg shell.
While nothing in nutrition is certain, an intake of approximately one egg a day in healthy people desiring this is unlikely to have adverse health effects.
Those with vascular problems or previous heart disease may need to be a little more prudent (and not just with eggs).
Professor Garry Egger has previously received payment from the Egg Nutrition Council for a lecture provided to them.
Tags: , Lifestyle Medicine